White House Official Caldera Resigns Over Air Force One Photo Fiasco

Photo: WH Military Affairs Director Resigns in Wake of Air Force One FlyoverCourtesy White House Military Office
A senior administration official tells ABC News that as part of the White House report investigating the April 27 Air Force One flyover of Manhattan, White House Military Office director Louis Caldera has submitted his letter of resignation and President Obama has accepted.

The botched Manhattan Air Force One flyover photo-op that drew angry criticism from eyewitnesses all the way up to President Obama has now cost Louis Caldera, the director of the White House Military Office, his job. Caldera, who authorized the photo shoot that eyewitnesses said triggered 9/11 flashbacks, resigned this afternoon in a letter effective May 22.

"I have concluded that the controversy surrounding the Presidential Airlift Group's aerial photo shoot over New York City has made it impossible for me to effectively lead the White House Military Office," Caldera said in a letter to President Obama. "Moreover, it has become a distraction to the important work you are doing as President. After much reflection, I believe it is incumbent on me to tender my resignation and step down as Director of the White House Military Office."

Jake Tapper reports that Louis Caldera resigned after the Air Force One debacle.Play

Click here to read Caldera's letter.

Caldera's letter said that, as of today, he "will no longer be directing the affairs of the White House Military office and will no longer be involved in the work of the Office." The next two weeks will be spent "out-processing."

The White House said President Obama has accepted Caldera's resignation and has asked Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to review the structure of the White House Military Office so that "such an incident never occurs again."

Caldera had previously apologized for the April 27 incident, saying, "Last week, I approved a mission over New York. I take responsibility for that decision. While federal authorities took the proper steps to notify state and local authorities in New York and New Jersey, it's clear that the mission created confusion and disruption. I apologize and take responsibility for any distress that flight caused."

White House Releases Report and Photo

Also this afternoon, the White House released its internal internal review of the fiasco as well as a photo from the flyover involving an Air Force fighter jet and a Boeing 747 which is sometimes used as the president's plane. Earlier, White House officials had said they had planned not to release the photo since news of the incident broke last week.

Click here to read the report.

The report of the incident, which cost over $328,000 in taxpayer dollars and frightened a broad swath of lower Manhattan, site of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center towers, and neighboring New Jersey, says Caldera "did not offer a coherent explanation" for why he didn't alert higher-ups about the Air Force One flyover. "He stated that it was not a conscious decision – he did not decide not to notify them," the report says. "Instead, he suggested that it may have been an oversight."

The plan for the photo op was first officially conveyed to the White House by Colonel Scott Turner of the Presidential Airlift Group on April 9, the report says. Turner emailed Deputy Director of the White House Military Office George Mulligan addressing a number of issues including a plan to conduct "a photo shoot over the Statue of Liberty on the 27th of this month." Mulligan and Turner spoke about the mission as well.

Caldera Doesn't Recall Conversation, Report Says

Mulligan says he told his boss, Caldera about the proposed flyover on April 20.

According to Mulligan, "he briefly described the plan and stated that Colonel Turner was working on the details. He also suggested that when the plan was finalized the Director may want to inform White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina."

Mulligan thought Messina would want to know because the photo shoot involved the use of a presidential aircraft because "it was unusual -- i.e., it was a photo shoot near New York City and it required a high degree of coordination."

Caldera, the report says, "does not recall the conversation. He does not deny that it took place, but rather characterizes it as one of multiple things that were happening at the time."

The defense department is conducting its own review into the flyover.

Defense Department Photo Shoot

The White House Military Office had reportedly organized the event, but made no arrangements to alert Manhattanites that a large plane would fly very close to their tall buildings. As a result, many fled the area at the sight of the plane, believing it could be another 9/11-style attack.

The Department of Defense photo shoot involved a Boeing 747 used as Air Force One and one fighter jet flying at low altitude in the area around Ground Zero.

Residents and workers in Lower Manhattan and New Jersey, unaware of the photo op, ran into the streets, traumatized by memories of 9-11 and afraid of another attack. Emergency offices in both cities were inundated with hundreds of frightened calls. "It scared a couple of million people," one airport official said.

President Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had not been told about the photo op, were both infuriated by the incident.

Bloomberg called it "ill-conceived" and a "waste of taxpayers' money." A White House official told ABC News that President Obama was "furious" when he found out, and the Director of the White House Military Office, Louis Caldera, who approved the photo op, was called into a meeting with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina.

"As Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday after meeting with the President in the Oval Office, from our perspective this is history and we should be focused on issues like education reform and creating jobs," said Stu Loeser, spokesperson for Bloomberg.

At a photo op last week with FBI Director Robert Mueller, President Obama said, "It was a mistake, as was stated. It was something we found out about along with all of you. And it will not happen again."

Click here to watch Bloomberg and Gibbs speak about the flyover.

Officials Say System Broke Down

Although the shoot was authorized, the normal system of public notification broke down, multiple officials said.

Bloomberg said he was so furious he wasn't told about the photo op, that before he talked further to his own staff and agencies about the lack of notice to him, he wanted "to calm down."

"Poor judgment would have been a nice way to put it," Bloomberg said of the government flyover.

A New York City employee was disciplined for failing to pass on the FAA fly over information when it arrived on the employee's desk at City Hall.

According to city officials the employee was "reprimanded" and a "letter was placed in his file."

Eyewitness Accounts

Click here to look at photos sent in by ABCNews.com readers.

Eyewitnesses told ABCNews.com that they were "shocked" and "running scared" when the planes flew overhead.

Elena Zaccario, who works at an office building near Battery Park, said she was too startled to grab her camera until the planes' third fly-by.

"Needless to say, everyone was concerned and upset about not being notified like in previous 'military fly-overs,"" she said. "Other offices on other floors fled the building in panic. Not acceptable!"

Click here to hear some of the 911 calls released.

According to officials, the flight -- authorized by the FAA -- came in as low as 1000 feet to 150 feet above the city as it made a large circle over Manhattan, Staten Island, and New Jersey.

Self-evacuations of buildings in lower Manhattan and New Jersey, including the New York Mercantile Exchange, took place during the fly over.

According to multiple agencies, they were notified of the flyover, however the general public was not notified.

The Defense Department conducted the photo opportunity over the Hudson River. The planes flew over Lower Manhattan and in the vicinity of the Statue of Liberty during a 15 minute, pre-planned flight.

Click Here for the Investigative Homepage.